Monday, December 22, 2014


"Dont just do something, sit there!"
 One of the things we learn to do in meditation is to “just sit there.” In Japanese Zen, they call this Shikan Taza – just sitting. To our Western culture this seems to be tantamount to just sitting on your butt, doing nothing – a highly dubious activity - seen as lazy and unproductive even self centered navel gazing. But something happens when we “just sit.” Our awareness begins to open up, we begin to pull back from our impulses, our feelings and our stories about ourselves and the world and to be able to see what is going on both inside of us and outside of us with new clarity. We are less and less run by our original programming. We experience increased freedom and clarity and we bang into other people less often because we are not so wrapped up in the fog of our own preoccupations.
 One way that we can help this process along is to notice when we begin to effort in our sitting. By this I mean any effort to bat a thought or feeling away rather than to just see it and let it go. Or a stiffening of the body as we resist some experience we are having. Or the thoughts that seem to have a life of their own which we either get entranced with or start to fight. All of this puts us back in the realm of doing and fixing and unneeded suffering.
 I used to be a champion efforter. I didn’t know how to do any kind of concentrative activity without tensing up my shoulders and pursing my mouth. Yoga has been such a good additional practice for me because it works with the body and releasing tension in it.When you adopt a pose in yoga the instructor will often remind you to release your jaw, your shoulders, etc. Ooops! As I was writing this I noticed I was tensing up my shoulders!  But I noticed. And that is what it takes. Patient moment by moment noticing and letting go. This is what meditation is: no big deal, no big plans for great enlightenment. Just moment after moment being with what is rather than resisting what we fear and hanging on to what we want.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


 It is common for us to be triggered by outer circumstances into one of our old ways of being in the world. We can frame these ways of being in the world as our subpersonalities – parts of ourselves that may become dominant at times. In my last message, I listed a few of these subpersonalities that we can become over-identified with: the Inner Critic, the Judge, the People Pleaser, etc.
 The issue for integral psycho-spiritual practice is, how can we free ourselves from the trance of over-identification with our subpersonalities when our consciousness becomes hijacked by one? This depends on the specific subpersonality that we are dealing with, but in general, there are some practices that help. The key one is the ongoing practice of mindfulness: developing through ongoing practice the mirror awareness that allows us to step back from and become less identified with our thoughts and emotions. As I shared with the group last time, it can be very helpful to be able to sense and identify these complexes or subpersonalities when they surface.
 As a specific example, I will share about the “Pusher,” one of my subpersonalities. The Pusher complex shows up when I am doing something where I am afraid that another person is going to be displeased with my performance. When this happens, I tend to go into hyperdrive and try to make something happen ASAP!  Underneath is the fear of displeasing, but sometimes I lose touch with this and go into efforting and worrying accompanied by a diffuse anxiety.
 The way that I  free myself  is by: 1) catching myself going into this hyperdrive and 2) consciously pulling back, slowing down, 3) allowing myself to feel the anxiety and 4) giving myself  love and compassion. 5) I gradually undermine the core belief that I am in trouble. 6) I meditate to let go of the thought/emotion/energy pattern that is this Pusher complex. Also, 7) I find Yoga practice a great boon to my being able to let down and relax from the grip of anxiety and inner tension that is the signature energetic pattern of the Pusher. So I use somatic (body) awareness, breath, cognitive, emotional and spiritual processes to become aware of, work through, and release the Pusher complex, when it threatens to take over my consciousness.
 As we discussed in group, the subpersonalities to watch out for are the ones that are fear based. That means they are triggered by the emotion of fear and fear based thinking, worry, etc. What are the fear based subpersonalities that operate in your consciousness? Try listing some and getting to know them better. You might very well gain some freedom by doing this work! Here are some of the cast of characters to be on the lookout for that are usually fear based: the Perfectionist, Inner Critic, Pusher, Workaholic, Rageaholic, People Pleaser, Control Freak, Rescuer, Worry Wart, Planner, Avoiders of all kinds, including the Procrastinator, etc.
 Namaste, Robert Cornell LMFT,

Saturday, November 1, 2014


We typically consider ourselves to be of one piece, and when we don’t behave like we usually think that we do, we say,” I wasn’t myself when I did that.” Well if we were not ourselves, then who were we? Did someone slip into our body and take over?  One way to look at this is to imagine that we are formed of a committee of different selves that each of which may show up as “us” in different times and circumstances. For instance, when we are interacting with our children, it brings forth our parent self. When we are reacting to criticism from someone, it may bring out our own Inner Critic or some kind of defender. Depending upon the situation, one or another of our inner cast of characters will be drawn upon to respond.

 Looked at from this perspective, what constitutes mental health is 1) that we are aware of our inner bit part actors, 2) we can have some influence over them, and 3) they can work together harmoniously. So in this model, when we feel conflicted we have a conflict going on between two or more of our inner parts. We are going to continue to discuss this way of looking at our personality for some time now and see what insights we might draw from this model to understand and work with ourselves more skillfully. For those who find this idea fascinating you might want to read some of Dr. Richard Schwartz’s books on Inner Family Systems.

 Some of the bit parts I will be introducing in subsequent talks are:

            One who can step back from the drama and make clear     choices as to what to do
             Angry One, Placator, Nice Girl, Nice Boy
            Inner Critic, Perfectionist, Pusher, Control Freak

            Procrastinators, Addicts, Avoiders

-Robert Cornell

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Richard Rohr Passage

Dear friends,
I couldn’t keep from sending you this thought from Richard Rohr. It expresses our spiritual dilemma so well as we start out on the spiritual journey only to find ourselves highjacked!
love, Robert Cornell
I wonder if the only way that conversion, enlightenment, and transformation ever happen is by a kind of divine ambush. We have to be caught off guard. As long as you are in control, you are going to keep trying to steer the ship by your previous experience of being in charge. The only way you will let yourself be ambushed is by trusting the “Ambusher,” and learning to trust that the darkness of intimacy will lead to depth, safety, freedom, and love.
Any use of fear techniques or trying to shame people into the spiritual journey is inherently counter- productive. It simply makes you more defensive and protective of your boundaries, but now at an unconscious level (I am afraid this is true of a high percentage of Christians, who were largely raised on fear of “hell” and social pressure). We need spiritual teachers like John of the Cross to help us see the patterns of the spiritual journey that actually work, so we can be a bit less defended, a bit less boundaried, with ourselves and with God. Only then can God do the soul forming work of seduction and union.
God needs to catch us by surprise because our very limited preexisting notions keep us and our understanding of God small. We are still trying to remain in control and we still want to “look good”! God tries to bring us into a bigger world where by definition we are not in control and no longer need to look good. A terrible lust for certitude and social order has characterized the last 500 years of Western Christianity, and it has simply not served the soul well at all. Once we lost a spirituality of darkness as its own kind of light, there just wasn’t much room for growth in faith, hope, and love.
So God has to come indirectly, catching us off guard and out of control, when we are empty instead of full of ourselves. That is why the saints talk about suffering so much. They are not masochistic, sadistic, negative, morbid, or oppositional. The mystics have seen the pattern and, as Teresa of Ávila says in one place, it is not that you are happy for the suffering—who would be, who could be?—you are happy for the new level of intimacy that the suffering brought you to. You only know this after the fact, perhaps days or weeks or even years later. One day you realize, “God is so real to me now. How did I get here?” All you know is that you did not engineer or even imagine this. You were taken there when you were off guard. John’s word for that is darkness.
— Richard Rohr

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Soul Repair Group in Pasadena, California

A small group for those who have suffered abuse, abandonment, and neglect as children and want to move on with their lives.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more  painful than the risk it took to blossom”                          - Anaïs Nin
This small group program provides support to participants for the healing of old psycho-spiritual issues and developing better life skills for attaining their personal goals:
COMMUNITY: a safe and supportive small group to share with others who have experienced similar challenges from their childhoods.
SPIRITUALITY: a loving space to heal painful childhood memories and to find greater inner peace, connection with others and one’s higher power.
EDUCATION: learning healthy ways to self regulate and reduce emotional distress through mindfulness practices, somatic processing and more.
PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALING: sharing one’s stories, psychodrama, Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping) forgiveness of self and others, self compassion and other practices for healing and moving beyond old issues.
PERSONAL GROWTH: support and accountability for setting and attaining healthy goals for one’s life that align with one’s values, interests and skills.
GROUP LEADER is Robert Cornell, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. A former Zen Buddhist monk, Robert has decades of experience leading small groups on the themes of psychological and spiritual healing and growth and vocational issues. He has thirty years of experience running his own award winning landscape design firm (see  He is currently finishing writing his first book, Fifty Ways of Letting Go on psychological and spiritual growth. For further information about his experience and the different groups he leads, go to: and You can contact Robert through these websites.
There are two groups that meet every other week: Monday nights from 7-9PM and Wednesday nights from 7-9PM. Fee is on a sliding scale based on income.
Meetings are held at Westminster Counseling Center at 867 E. Atchison Street, Pasadena. The Counseling Center is right next to the Westminster Presbyterian Church on North Lake Avenue just south of New York Drive.


One of the fundamental spiritual practices is being present to our experience, in the moment and in our bodies. As we allow ourselves to contact our bodily experience, it is often the case that we feel a certain uneasiness, a sense of vulnerability. This frequently  happens when we first start to meditate; when we begin to experience this direct contact with our moment-by-moment experience it feels a little scary. “This can’t be right.” we say to ourselves, “I must be doing something wrong.”  But what we are encountering is just how unfamiliar it feels for us to not live from the conning tower of our mind, trying to be in control of everything.

 When we take our seat to meditate, it is as if we are saying to God, to the universe, “I don’t want to be in charge anymore. I want to learn to trust the flow of life to carry me to where I am supposed to be.” But this feels so unnatural and unfamiliar to us control freaks who have tried for many years to fix ourselves and to fix our families. So the root practice in meditation is letting go of this need for control and dealing with the underlying trust issues  that arise when we attempt to let go. Our ego has spent so many years devising strategies to keep us feeling in control and safe, so it is not going to give up its role easily!

 The problem is that the ego is a false God to which we have sacrificed much of our essential freedom and goodness. We have bought into the strategy, “If I keep doing  X,  then the world will be safe for me.” The problem with this modus operandi is that it usually is based upon what happened to us in childhood and we are acting as if the world were still just as it was when we were children. So if we had an abusive parent and we learned to please them to stay safe, we still operate out of the scenario that the world is not a safe place and we have to appease others to stay safe. Sad to say though, when we are the good girl or good boy who always tries to please, we might be safe, but we have lost much of our authenticity.

 In meditation we let go of all of the efforting to do this or that thing that we believe keeps us safe. The workaholic sitting with themselves and  not working begins to become acutely aware of their sense of unworthiness seeping up from their unconscious where it has been repressed by compulsive accomplishment. The people pleaser sees their fear of being unsafe when they aren’t in a frenetic dance of meeting other people’s needs. And as we are wiling to sit with ourselves and see the internal drama pass by our awareness without acting out, we gradually let go of our core beliefs about who we are and what the world is all about. And as we let go of these stories that we have lived by, we come to abide in the present, to experience PRESENCE, pure being itself. And this is the Pearl of Great Price.

Working With the Inner Critic

Some of us have very intense Inner critics that sit on our shoulders  and comment on every mistake we ever make. For others of us, our Inner Critic only shows up when we are feeling low and vulnerable.In any case, an Inner Critic can be an incredible pain in the neck!  In meditation we can find ways to decrease the intensity of our over active inner critics. For one thing Inner Critics function on the mental level mostly and they are (oddly enough) usually trying in their own way to protect us from harm by trying to make us act perfectly so that we will not be attacked by others.
One way to take some of the energy away from your Inner Critic is to go to your heart center and direct compassion to yourself. Often the Inner Critic is trying to protect your wounded Inner Child and has been triggered by something it perceives as potentially threatening to the Inner Child. So realizing this, instead of fighting with our Inner Critic, we go directly to our Inner Child and comfort it and surround it with love. This deflects the harsh criticism of the Inner Critic and reduces any fear that the Inner Child might be feeling.
Friday night, we will be learning how to give first aide to our Inner Child when our Inner Critic is set off. This is a great tool to have in your emotional management toolbox!
Best wishes,
Robert Cornell LMFT
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